John Gray has written an impressive piece on the delusions of Western foreign policy in the decade following the terrorist attack by Islamists on September 11 2001. In the New Statesman ( Perpetual Warfare ) he writes that the USA blundered into Afghanistan and conflated the threat of Al Qaida with the Taliban.
The conflicts triggered by 9/11 have all been fought on false premises. Bombing al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan was a legitimate act of self-defence and, in the context of US politics, may have been inevitable, but it was not the only option. The relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda has never been simple or unproblematic, and there is evidence that the Taliban may have been considering expelling al-Qaeda from Afghanistan when the bombing campaign got under way.
Gray is right that ever since the war has been justified according to a series of 'shifting goals'-from installing democracy, promoting social and economic development to defending women's rights. Moreover, he is scathing about the validity of the so-called "war on drugs",
Linking the Afghan mission with the nonsensical "war on drugs" has been predictably counterproductive. Destroying drug production - the Americans at one point thinking of spraying the whole of Helmand Valley with weedkiller to wipe out the opium fields - would also have destroyed much of the Afghan economy. There is constant talk of preparing government forces to take over responsibility for security, Bamiyan being the first province handed over, on 17 July. But where government is weak and lacking in legitimacy, and where allegiance to any authority has long been a tradable commodity, it should be obvious that improving the training of local forces will not ensure their loyalty. Presiding over a territory that has never been ruled by a modern state, the Afghan government is not much more than a funnel for endemic corruption. In the event of a full-scale pull-out of US-led forces, it would be lucky to survive for more than 48 hours.
Where Gray gets it slightly wrong is in adhering too rigidly to the idea of the West bungling into Afghanistan because they had no coherent policy at all.
There are some who see the entire war on terror as a cover for neo-colonialism. Behind all the proclamations about democracy and human rights, they say, the real goal was building pipelines in Afghanistan and seizing oilfields in Iraq. In fact, the course of events has been much more absurd. There is no evidence of consecutive thought of the kind required to make any conspiracy theory credible. Certainly there has been disinformation - plenty of it - but rather than concealing any covert strategy, it masked the lack of any strategy at all.
On the contrary, there is quite a lot of evidence that pipelines are held to be the key to stabilising Afghanistan by bringing in transit fees and uniting the regional powers that are signatories to the TAPI pipeline together under Western auspices. The fact that this aim of creating an energy corridor is, as Gray suggests, a delusion does not mean it has not played a central role.
Clearly, no war, least of all Afghanistan, is "all about a pipeline". Yet that does not mean that now the other justifications for "staying the course" for a decade have been revealed as a utopian mirage , that the completion of the TAPI pipeline does not remain the one sole consolation prize to be attained there.